I was delighted to be offered this title to read, and just finished it when the news came through that the beloved Barbara Mertz (aka Barbara Michaels and Elizabeth Peters) had passed on to the great pyramid in the sky.
This book, Naked Once More, is a reissue specifically for e-readers (I have a Kindle) that somehow missed me the first time around. When I finished it, I felt replete, and delighted to find such an erudite and fun book to enjoy.
The protagonist here is Jacqueline Kirby, once of Ms. Peters' lesser known characters. There are four Kirby books (in order, The Seventh Sinner, The Murders of Richard III, Die For Love, and Naked Once More) and the character develops delightfully in each of the books. Ms. Kirby's first career was as a librarian. Her bump of curiosity leads her into all kinds of mayhem, and during her experiences in the first three books, her career takes a turn, as she becomes a well-known author.
Naked Once More brings her to a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity: to write a sequel to a beloved novelist's only book. The novelist in question died all too young (or did she?). Staying at the local B&B, Kirby (as she prefers to be called) is not really enamored of small-town living. OR small town gossip. The family of the novelist (Kathleen Darcy) is eager for money, and the town has more than its fair share of eccentrics, including former lovers of Miss Darcy, a bookstore owner who has studied the novelist intensely, the bizarre couple that runs the B&B and fans who are enraged at the idea of someone else writing a sequel at all.
As Kirby goes through Darcy's papers and learns more about Darcy's past, she begins to realize that the novelist had had several brushes with death before she disappeared, leaving her abandoned car in an isolated location. It has been seven years, though, and Darcy has been proclaimed officially dead. But someone doesn't like Kirby's research, and some not-really-accidents begin to happen to Kirby as well. Beleaguered, with publishers and a long-distance relationship, and trying to sort out the present travails as well as the past that won't stay in the past, Kirby finds that her work on the opus has trickled to almost nothing.
Barbara Mertz (Elizabeth Peters—the name taken from the first names of her two children) weaves a deft plot and keeps the reader curious and anticipatory every step of the way. Kirby is in her best form, vinegary and not too patient with the foibles of others. Can she ever put paid to the mystery surrounding Kathleen Darcy, save her own skin, and actually get some writing done? We shall see...
Elizabeth Peters, whose New York Times best-selling novels are often set against historical backdrops, earned a Ph.D. in Egyptology at the University of Chicago. She also wrote best-selling books under the pseudonym Barbara Michaels. She lived in Frederick, Maryland. She passed away on August 8, 2013. Visit her website.
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